Refuseservice1

A Modest Proposal For Religious Freedom Laws

Refuseservice1

In 1994, I moved to Los Angeles to attend film school, and I quickly discovered a local hangout called Barney’s Beanery. It was one of those places that hipsters would call a “dive”, which meant the décor was fashioned to look old and tacky but there weren’t actually any creepy drunks lingering around to bring everyone down. My friends and I used to hang out there and talk about movies, because we heard Shane Black went there to write, and because the menu was full of the kind of deep-fried pub food that we were too young to realize we shouldn’t be eating so much of.

Then one day, the one openly gay guy in my MFA program (I wasn’t yet brave enough to come out myself) told me why he never joined us when we went there.

“The owners are homophobes,” he said.

“No!” I insisted. “That’s impossible.”

He shook his head. “I can’t believe you haven’t heard this. There used to be a sign over the bar that said ‘Faggots Stay Out’.”

I think at this point I probably laughed, guffawed even. The idea was so absurd, not only because it seemed like the kind of blatant Jim Crow bigotry America had supposedly done away with long ago, but because Barney’s Beanery was in the middle of the gayest part of town. Walk a couple of blocks in either direction from Barney’s and you’d undoubtedly find yourself face-to-jock strap with a go-go boy dancing on a bar.

“You have to be kidding,” I said. “It’s in West Hollywood.”

“Right,” he replied. “And have you ever noticed any gay people in there?”

It was my “Soylent Green is people” moment (sorry for the spoiler if you haven’t seen “Soylent Green”). He was right. Barney’s Beanery was situated among the gayest gay bars in Gaytown, yet it was full of the straightest frat boys you’d ever seen.

Thanks to the internet, I now have photographic proof that Barney’s did have that sign, up until the city forced them to take it down in 1985. (Not surprisingly, the word “faggots” wasn’t even spelled correctly.)

Photo republished from Frontiers Magazine

Photo republished from Frontiers Magazine

When my friend told me about Barney’s no fags policy, I felt sick. I wanted to retroactively barf up every onion ring I’d ever eaten and every drop of cheap beer I’d ever drunk there on their front steps. One thing was for sure. I was never setting foot in Barney’s again.

Now, thanks to the Indiana state legislature and its governor, Mike Pence, millions of people in a Midwest state have the right to do just what Barney’s did. Sure, they’re not asking to exercise that right quite as crudely, but then again, maybe that’s the problem.

I’m not going to argue the merits of this law. If you want to read someone doing that much better than I can, check out Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s eloquent and thorough smackdown of a similar law in Colorado in Romer v. Evans, from 1996. Laws like this are nothing new. They spring from a decades-long effort by well-funded anti-gay hate groups who are determined to legitimize and spread their bigotry. Every few years, these obsessive Grinches regroup with a slightly different strategy, usually in a different state, where they rewrite their last bill and try again. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

They’re convinced this is a cultural war, and if it is, I’m ready to admit that it might not be one we can win. Sure, we can boycott Indiana, but then the people who got this law passed will just cry oppression even louder, and at the same time, we’ll end up hurting lots of good-hearted, open-minded Hoosiers who are as disgusted by the law as many of us out-of-staters are.

I’m tired of fighting back, and I’m tired of arguing. I’m tired of using my time, money and energy trying to force bigots to make me a wedding cake. We both think someone’s trying to infringe on our freedom, that the other side is out to oppress us. Again, I could argue this point, but I’m tired of it. They’re not going away. They’re determined to win.

So I say it’s time to let them.

They want the right to discriminate? They can have it.

You don’t want to cater my gay wedding? You don’t have to.

You don’t want to give me the family rate at your pool club because our family happens to have two dads? Fine with me.

You’re a jeweler who’s willing to turn down the sale of two diamond rings because the women buying them plan to give them to each other? Hey, it’s your business.

There’s just one catch.

You know those signs that businesses put up that say “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone”? Well, from now on, if you choose to reserve that right, you have to hang one of those signs on your front door.

And you have to be specific.

Your God won’t let you sell me a cake? No problem. Just post this in your shop window:

Refuseservice1

That spares me the embarrassment of coming inside your business only to get turned away, and it saves you the unpleasantness of having to tell me to my face that you don’t think I’m morally upstanding enough to savor your rich buttercream frosting. It’s win-win.

In fact, why limit this to gays? How about a sign like this instead:

Refuseservice2

It’s customizable! You don’t want to serve African-Americans? Write your favorite slur in the appropriate spot. Jews make you uncomfortable? Fill in the blank. This one sign will work for whatever group of people you find distasteful. Muslims? Transgender people? The disabled? Did you see the sign? Buh-bye!

You don’t even have to claim religious oppression to do this. I don’t care what your reasons are, and I don’t care what you put in that blank, whether it’s my group or not. If I see that sign in your window, I’ll just quietly move on and give my business to someone else.

Because here’s what I think:

I think, if you’re really willing to own your right to discriminate, you won’t just lose the business of whatever minority you feel your bottom line can do without. You’ll lose everyone who sees discrimination for the divisive, un-American garbage that it is. You can’t spit on me and then act all nice and innocent with my straight friends, not anymore. You want the right to refuse someone service because of who they are? Put your money where your entrance door is, and see who’s still willing to walk through it.

A lot has changed since Barney’s Beanery took down their sign. (Even Barney’s, now under new ownership, seems to have made peace with the community.) Back then, there were no such thing as straight allies. Well, judging from my Facebook feed, my straight friends have my back, and I have the backs of all my friends, too, no matter which model in a Benetton ad they most resemble. Turn away any one of us you want, but only if you’re willing to run the risk of losing all of us.

You see, there’s one thing you have to remember, and that’s that if you have the right to discriminate, so do I… only my sign will look more like this:

nobigots

* * * * *

You reserve the right to be… awesome. If you agree with my modest proposal, spread the word by sharing this post on your social networks with the buttons below.

* * * * *

I may have mentioned I’m a dad, with kids to feed. I also have a great, funny story to tell of how I became a dad. So forgive this shameless plug for my book, Mommy Man: How I Went From Mild-Mannered Geek to Gay Superdad, which is available at non-discriminatory booksellers everywhere.

What I Didn’t Find Funny About “It’s Kind of a Funny Story”

Funny_Story_frontThere’s nothing like reading a book about depression to bring you down. It’s a shame, though, when that wasn’t the author’s point. Warning: this post contains vague spoilers about the book It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini, so if you’re planning to read it, you can skip this for now. Just be warned that the book kind of spoils itself on the last page. If you’re still reading, I’ll explain…

It’s Kind of a Funny Story is a very good book and a sensitive, illuminating portrayal of mental illness. The main character, a 15-year-old high school student under a ton of adolescent pressure, checks himself into a psychiatric ward after having suicidal thoughts. Over five days there, he meets some other troubled people, learns a lot about himself and finds the inspiration to go on with life. It’s even more emotionally involving when you know that it was based on the author’s own time spent in a similar institution and that he himself struggled with depression for many years. It’s been a bestseller, was adapted into a movie and has become a favorite of YA readers everywhere.

So what’s my problem? Well, on the very last page of the book, the main character, Craig, is running through a mental checklist of how to go on with his life after leaving the institution. It’s a beautiful monologue, until near the end, when he says this:

“Travel. Fly. Swim. Meet. Love. Dance. Win. Smile. Laugh. Hold. Walk. Skip. Okay, it’s gay, whatever, skip.”

Wait… what? “It’s gay”? Really? I’ve been emotionally involved in your struggle for 317 e-pages and you reward me with a crude sucker punch in the fourth-to-last paragraph? There’s no homophobia in the book until then. Other than a few fleeting moments involving a transgender resident, there are no LGBTQ characters at all. Just a lot of sensitively-portrayed, troubled individuals who were probably loosely based on the real residents Vizzini encountered in his hospital stay.

I love a good cry when I’m reading a book, and I’ll bet a lot of people cried at the ending to this one, but not me. I wanted to throw it across the room. I might’ve done it, too, if it wasn’t an ebook. No way I’m wrecking my iPhone over something like that. What infuriated me was that, while reading this character’s mental pep talk, I suddenly felt transported back to being a depressed 15-year-old myself, and this book that was written to inspire depressed 15-year-olds was actually mocking me.

Here’s a passage from my memoir “Mommy Man” in which I talk about what it was like growing up in a world rife with casual homophobia:

“As a gay kid, all I could do was suck it up, play straight, and play along. I never knew when my homophobia might be tested. I would go to see a perfectly fun movie like Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, only to find out one of the running jokes was the two loveable protagonists calling each other “fag.” No one warned the public about it, no critics condemned it as hateful, no one even thought it was worth commenting on. It was just a joke, and judging by the reaction of the audience around me, a hilarious one. So I was forced to bust a gut, too — unless I wanted someone to think I was some kind of fag myself.

Everyone raved about the movie Lucas, in which Corey Haim played a sad, scrawny outcast who tried to win over the girl of his dreams by joining the high school football team. Sad, scrawny outcast? Sign me up! The reviews said it was sweet and heartwarming — and it was — but smack in the middle is a scene where Lucas accuses the bad guy of being a ‘fag’ in the locker room showers, supposedly a moment of stand-up-and-cheer comeuppance for a character we despise. Watching that scene with my friends, I died a little inside. (On the plus side, though, there were naked jocks.)”

Sure, the 80’s were full of casual awfulness. Casual racism, casual sexism, casual date rape, all wrapped up in a quirky New Wave neon package. As a 43-year-old man in 2015, I’m happy that those kinds of things are no longer acceptable and can no longer go unquestioned. (Read Dave Holmes’ excellent open letter to Kid Rock for more on this subject.) But It’s Kind of a Funny Story came out in 2007. Long after the message was out about how using “gay” as a pejorative is bad for gay kids, a writer wrote it, an editor declined to edit it out, a publisher published it and tons of gay kids undoubtedly read it, just like I did.

That’s what really upsets me. The book worked so hard to describe and sympathize with the suicidal impulses of its characters. We know that gay kids attempt suicide four times as much as straight kids. So why the gratuitous gay slur amid an otherwise uplifting monologue? As I read it, all I could picture was how it would feel to be a depressed gay teen who might be totally engrossed in the book and inspired by the ending… only to unexpectedly get the message, right in the final sentences, “Hold on, this isn’t about you. You’re weird.”

Tragically, Ned Vizzini lost his own battle with depression when he committed suicide in 2013 at the age of 32.  I’m not trying to tarnish his legacy or accuse him of homophobia. It’s Kind of a Funny Story is a wonderful book that has undoubtedly brought comfort to a lot of unhappy adolescents (and grownups for that matter). Its author was probably a great guy who thought he was making a harmless joke and just capturing the way teenagers really talk. I wish he were still here to respond — and to write more books.

For any depressed LGBTQ kids who might be reading this one, though, I hope they know that the message still applies to them, that they can overcome their thoughts of suicide, and most of all, I hope they bought the book in paperback, so if the mood strikes them, when they’re done, they can throw it across the room.

The New Rules of Gay

Are you gay? If so, congratulations. It’s a good time to be you. Any poll will tell you that the public is on your side. The Supreme Court is (mostly) looking out for you. Even the Pope thinks you’re pretty cool. Sure, there are still a few crusty old curmudgeons who think you’re causing tsunamis and corrupting children, but they’re quickly dying off and leaving behind more tolerant offspring in their wake. See? Even the Circle of Life is gay-friendly.

As for you straight people, or even the straight-curious, you might find this all a bit overwhelming, and understandably so. None of us were expecting the world to change this fast. Seriously, gay marriage in Utah? Who saw that coming?

Fear not. As a species, we must adapt to survive, but if we all keep a few things in mind, we can handle our new, post-homophobic reality. Herewith, I offer the New Rules of Gay:

“Gay” is a good word. “Fag” is bad.

newrules1, The New Rules of Gay, Jerry Mahoney, Mommy ManIf you’re one of those people who’s still saying, “That’s so gay!” when you think something is stupid or lame, it’s time to stop. Not so much because it’s offensive as because people are increasingly likely to misunderstand you completely. Gay is good now. When you say, “Those pants are so gay!”, people are going to think, “Oh, gay? Like Neil Patrick Harris? Cool! He must really like those pants! Maybe I’ll buy him a pair for his birthday.”

“Fag” is only going to get more offensive, though, because we gays need our N-word. We’ve all been called “faggot,” and it still stings, so now that we have a teeny bit of power, we’re out for blood. Don’t learn this the hard way, like Isaiah Washington did. GLAAD will so cut you.

Homosexuality is G-rated. No need to hide it from kids.

newrules3, The New Rules of Gay, Jerry Mahoney, Mommy ManWhen you were growing up, you might’ve had a “funny Uncle Tom,” or maybe your parents would sometimes mention, in a hushed tone, “Aunt Jane’s special friend.” That’s if your parents would let you around Uncle Tom or Aunt Jane at all.

Well, Aunt Jane’s special friend has a name, and it’s Aunt Sharon, thank you very much. They’re married, and unless you’re a bigot, you were at their wedding and your three year old daughter was spreading rose petals across the aisle for them. That’s how we roll these days.

We don’t shove people in a closet any more for the sake of children. Instead, we let the kids share fully in the joy of knowing that Uncle Tom isn’t going to die alone.

Treating gay people like they’re R or X-rated only reinforces the notion that there’s something shameful or secretive about being gay. If your kid sees two people of the same sex kissing, be honest, and say things like, “Those ladies are married” or “Those two dudes are each other’s husbands.” Of course, the most important word to use is “love.” What could be more G-rated than that?

Don’t worry, ‘phobes. You don’t have to equate being honest with conveying approval. Once you’ve told your kids the facts, you’re free to interject whatever religious or personal discomfort you may have with those facts, or just to pout discontentedly.

The old jokes don’t work anymore.

newrules9, The New Rules of Gay, Jerry Mahoney, Mommy ManYou know that caricature of the catty gay guy squealing for Streisand and shuddering at anything even remotely masculine? You’ve seen him in a million movies and TV shows, although they don’t always come right out and say he’s gay, because characters like that aren’t usually allowed by Hollywood to have a love life. The whole concept of guys like that is stereotypical, it’s outdated, it’s ludicrous, and you know what…?

I don’t hate it.

Honestly, there’s some truth to it. There’s a great moment in the documentary “The Celluloid Closet” where a bunch of film historians are discussing the stock Hollywood character commonly referred to as “the sissy”, and Harvey Fierstein guiltily admits, “I liked the sissy!” When he was a kid, he related to that character, and it made him happy to see himself reflected on screen.

So yes, there are guys like that, and they’re awesome. In fact, the reason that caricature began is that, not too many years ago, those were the most visible LGBTQ people, the bravest ones most willing to be themselves, in spite of society’s prejudices. I love those guys, and we all owe them a lot for making the world a better place for all of us. (The same goes for that old stereotype of the butch, no-nonsense lesbian. It’s hardly a complete representation of gay women, but there are ladies like that, and they are 100% awesome.)

That being said, these days, queeny gay guys and butch lesbians are just one part of a very diverse community, and most people know lots of gays and lesbians who don’t fit some convenient mold. So if you rely on easy jokes we’ve all heard before, don’t expect to get the same laughs you used to.

This means anyone creating gay characters has to try a lot harder and flesh them out into full, three-dimensional people. They can still like Streisand, but there had better be more to them than that… and if they don’t have a love interest, they should at least have an interest in finding one. Everybody I know does.

Don’t assume everyone is straight.

newrules6, The New Rules of Gay, Jerry Mahoney, Mommy ManIt’s hard enough coming out of the closet. Please don’t ask me the second you meet me if I have a wife or if I think Megan Fox is hot. Until you know someone well, be careful to be gender-inclusive. Instead of “Do you have a girlfriend?”, ask “Are you dating anyone?” Thankfully, with gay marriage, this is easier than ever, because even “Are you married?” is a gender-neutral question these days.

Yes, most people you meet will be straight, but no one’s gaydar is 100%, so instead of making assumptions, let people tell you who they are. Most people are happy to do so.

By the same token, don’t get offended if someone dances around your sexuality until they know you better. You don’t have to panic that you’re giving off a gay vibe, and you don’t have to pretend like you don’t know what they’re doing. There’s nothing wrong with responding directly, “Just so you know, I’m straight,” then having a good laugh about it. At that point, you’re free to dance around their sexuality and have even more fun.

It’s still rude to ask people their orientation.

newrules5, The New Rules of Gay, Jerry Mahoney, Mommy ManThis may seem contradictory. On the one hand, we’ve gotten to the point where a person’s sexual orientation is practically irrelevant, unless you happen to be sexually interested in them. On the other hand, it can still be an awkward subject to raise.

When you ask someone straight out if they’re gay, you’re assuming they’ve figured it out and are comfortable with it. Bias still exists, gay bashers still exist and, sadly, shame still exists, so for that reason, the closet will continue to exist. If you want to know if someone is playing for the same team as you, you’re going to have to wait for them to offer up the information, or at least provide you with some very distinct clues.

You can also check their Facebook, because anything someone posts there is fair game to ask them about, and sometimes you’ll find they’re a lot more of an open book than you thought.

When someone tells you their sexuality, take them at their word.

newrules2, The New Rules of Gay, Jerry Mahoney, Mommy ManYou know that famous man who’s married to a woman but no one can refer to their marriage without rolling their eyes? Or the friend of yours who you’re convinced would be much happier if they’d just start dating within their own gender? Sure, those people might be gay. As long as there’s a societal cost to being gay, there will be people who aren’t willing to pay it. There will also be others who, bless their hearts, are just hopelessly confused. But you can’t shame people into coming out of the closet, not when shame is what drove them in in the first place.

Mocking and rumor-mongering, fun though they may be, don’t do any favors to people who are surely suffering through their own private Hell. When someone tells you they’re straight, just play along. The best you can do for anyone is to try to make the world a safer place for people to be themselves. Then, just step back.

Besides, if they say they’re straight, there’s a good chance they actually are. Most people are straight, after all, and some straight guys are actually cool enough to realize how awesome showtunes are.

Of course, this only goes for people who are at least claiming to be gay-friendly. An A-list actor who did drag in a movie musical isn’t hurting us, so let’s leave him alone. On the other hand, if you spot Ralph Reed or Tony Perkins in a gay bar stuffing singles in some hunk’s Speedo, then call every tabloid in town. It’s always OK to out people for being hypocrites.

The closet isn’t for gays anymore. It’s for homophobes.

The closet, The closet is a good place to hide your homophobia, The New Rules of Gay, Jerry Mahoney, Mommy ManI went to a pretty diverse and fairly progressive high school, but I have a distinct memory of a fellow white kid using the “N-word” one day in the locker room. It just so happened there were no African-American students within earshot at that moment, so he felt comfortable assuming we were all as racist as he was. He was a little surprised when someone called him on it.

Multiply that by a thousand, and that’s about how many times I heard the “F-word” casually thrown around that way in high school. No one realized there was a gay kid in the room, and unlike with the racist kid, no one told him it was uncool to talk that way.

People’s sexuality isn’t as easy to spot as their race, so for a long time homophobes had free reign to gay-bash in virtually any crowd. Not anymore. Straight allies are coming out of the woodwork to shut down the haters, and more importantly, gay people are standing up for themselves, too.

LGBTQ people are done living in fear of being themselves. Now it’s homophobes who live in fear of exposing their hatred in the wrong crowd. If you hate gays, keep it to yourself, because you’re not going to get a lot of fist bumps anymore. You’re going to be confronted by a lot of out and proud gay people who aren’t afraid of you anymore, as well as a lot of straight allies who think you’re a major asshat.

And finally…

We know you used to be a homophobe, but we forgive you.

The New Rules of Gay, Jerry Mahoney, Mommy ManI like to imagine that the racist kid from my high school is married to an African-American woman these days. Or maybe an African-American man. Times change, and so do people. Rarely has this change been as swift or as dramatic as on the issue of homosexuality. It was just a couple of years ago that a majority of Americans opposed same-sex marriage, and now, I can’t even name a state where it’s illegal because by the time this piece goes live, it might be outdated.

Sure, there’s still a part of me that remembers every homophobic thing anyone has ever said in my presence, but what matters more is that most of the people who said those things eventually woke the fuck up. Like Barack Obama, they evolved. And like Barack Obama, their evolution influenced other people to do the same.

We haven’t come this far by holding grudges against people who used to be homophobic. And if that’s you, you’re in luck. It doesn’t matter to anyone what you thought about gay people in 1989.

If you still think that way in 2014, on the other hand, then wake the fuck up. It’s time.

* * * * *

Want to debate any of these points or suggest one of your own? Join the conversation in the comment section below, or better yet, share this post on your social networks using the buttons down there.

* * * * *

The New Rules of Gay, Jerry Mahoney, Mommy ManIf you like this post, I hope you’ll share it on your social networks. And if you super-like it, then I bet you’ll like my book, too. What book? This one!

My brand-new memoir “Mommy Man: How I Went From Mild-Mannered Geek to Gay Superdad” tells all about my hilarious, heartwarming path to parenthood. Publishers Weekly called it “uproarious” and “touching”, and all kinds of people have been saying even nicer things about it on Amazon and GoodReads.

Buy the hardcover so people on the bus will know exactly what you’re laughing at, or buy the eBook to keep ‘em guessing. It’s your choice!

 

Video

My First Video: What to Expect When You’re Expecting… And Gay!

I was very honored to be asked to contribute to a recent surrogacy conference in Australia, held by the group Families Through Surrogacy, who also invited me to their San Francisco conference back in March. I’ll be speaking again at their upcoming event in Alexandria, Virginia on September 13, 2014, so if that’s in your neighborhood, come on down!

If you don’t live near any of those places, you’re still in luck, because I’m posting a video of my presentation here for you. This is my first attempt at producing a YouTube video, so don’t expect any technical wizardry, but if you’re looking for information on surrogacy or becoming a gay dad or just a glimpse of yours truly yakking away, then this is for you!

It’s OK If You Don’t Want Your Kids To Be Gay

bigglassesOne of the things I’m proudest of with this blog is the response I’ve received to my post How to Talk to Your Kids About Gay People, By a Gay Person. It’s received exactly the kind of praise (overwhelming) and condemnation (from a few random kooks) I would’ve hoped. I’ve also reached a number of people in the middle, which is where I would suspect most parents are these days, still trying to make sense of our increasingly gay-friendly world and where their kids fit into it.

I’d like to share one particularly intriguing comment I got on the post, which espouses a viewpoint I imagine is increasingly common among parents these days (edited version below; original can be found on the original post):

My husband and I are both tolerant, live and let live kind of people. I am a Christian, [but] I don’t think homosexuality is sinful. What is in the bible is taken way out of context.

 We have a two mom couple [in our neighborhood]. [My kids] never noticed, so we don’t bring it up. Then one day, my 5 year old said that a man can’t marry a man, that is just silly. My husband agreed with him. My husband and I talked later and I told him not to say that, because our son has girls with two moms in his class and he may tell them that it is silly or wrong. My husband said that, in truth, two men can’t legally get married and he doesn’t want the kids thinking it is OK. Well that is when I realized that we aren’t as cool with it as I thought.

I don’t think seeing gay couples will make our sons gay, but my husband seems to think that if we just say it is fine and OK and natural, then they will experiment with both genders. While I would love and accept my son no matter what and so would my husband, I don’t want him to be gay. So how do I tell them that it is OK for other people, but not OK for us. Is that ignorant of me. Am I way overthinking it. I don’t feel like these couples are going to make my children gay, but for some reason, I have this problem with telling them that it is perfectly OK and normal for them to like [other boys]. How should I explain it? I would be mortified if he told his five year old friends that their Moms were wrong or weird and made the little girls feel bad.

I’m going to start off by saying something you probably wouldn’t expect me to say:

It’s OK if you don’t want your kids to be gay.

I know, can you believe a gay man just said that? I’ll say it again:

It’s OK if you don’t want your kids to be gay.

You don’t have to feel guilty about it or be conflicted, and it shouldn’t be the cause of a fight with your spouse.

As parents, we have a lot of expectations and desires for our kids, and that’s only natural. Maybe you don’t want them to go into the military, because you’re afraid they’ll be in danger. You don’t want them to be poets, because you’re afraid they’ll always be broke. You don’t want them to be windmill technicians, because you don’t want them moving away to the Netherlands. All understandable.

On top of that, it’s natural to want your children to be people you can relate to. We want them to have the same political views as us. We want them to share our religion, our work ethic, our sense of humor.

So maybe there’s a part of you that wants your kid to share the same sexual orientation as you. It will certainly make your life easier. It’s hard enough teaching your kids about the birds and the bees, without also having to explain the bees and the bees or the birds and the birds. Fair enough.

It may even make your kid’s life easier if they’re straight, because he or she won’t have to deal with homophobia and the difficulty gay people face when trying to have a family. Maybe that’s why you don’t want your kid to be gay, and that’s OK, too.

It doesn’t make you a bad parent, it doesn’t make you a bad person. It doesn’t even necessarily make you a homophobe.

Here’s the catch, though: You have to be willing to accept your kids even if they’re not what you wanted them to be.

He wasn't what they expected, but these hippies loved their Republican son.

He wasn’t what they expected, but these hippies loved their Republican son.

You would still love your daughter if she joined the military or your son if he became a poet, and if either of them became a windmill technician, you’d be a little sad, but you’d buy a Dutch phrase book and move on with life. It’s the same if your kid ends up being gay, so prepare yourself for that now. Ideally, you may not want it to happen, but it could happen.

And I’m sorry, but there’s no way to convey the notion of “It’s OK for them but not for us” without it coming across as hypocritical or dishonest. Your kid is looking at how you treat your neighbors not just to see how he should treat his neighbors, but to see how you might treat him as well.

What I’m hearing in your comment sounds to me like, “I want to teach my son to be nice to people who are different from us, because I’m terrified those people might learn how we really feel.” You can’t have it both ways. If you’d accept a stranger for being who they are, you can’t discourage it in your own child.

Kids have a tendency of defying their parents’ expectations. Ultimately, as a parent, you should be striving to make your kids happy, and nothing will make them happier than if they’re allowed to be themselves and to know that they have the unconditional love of their parents to support them.

You might really, really prefer that your kid be straight, and maybe you’ll get your wish. But maybe not. And it’s how you handle the “maybe not” that demonstrates what kind of parent you are.

Here’s the other catch: you can’t wait until your kids grow up to tell them you’re OK with who they are. You have to plant the seeds of acceptance before they even figure themselves out.

If your son tells you he wants to be a professional wrestler when he grows up, you can say you’d be very worried that he’d get hurt, but the bigger point you should make is that you’d always root for him.

If your daughter tells you she wants to be a roller disco queen, you can gently suggest that she might need a backup career plan, but only after you tell her to get down with her bad self.

And if your kids say they want to marry someone of the same sex someday, you might be inclined to share what your religion says about homosexuality, but your focus should really be on how proud you’ll be to walk them down the aisle.

Five-year-olds don’t usually have much sense of where they’ll be in 20 years. If we could really trust the predictions preschoolers make, the world would have a lot more firemen and princesses in it. But if there’s one thing kids that age are very good at, it’s testing their parents. When they make assertions about their identity, it’s a safe bet that they’re studying your reaction very closely.

Young adults have been known to experiment with homosexuality if they feel it’ll piss off their parents. But no one has actually ever become gay just because their parents told them they’d be cool with it. I promise.

As for the fact that marriage still isn’t legal wherever you happen to live, it’s only a matter of years if not months before it will be. Marriage equality is almost a certainty by the time your five-year-old reaches adulthood, so don’t cling to the technicality while it lasts.

If you want to know how to discuss the lesbian parents in your neighborhood with your kids, you can show them your acceptance without turning it into a Bi g Discussion on homosexuality. Just say, “Those women are in love, the same way I love your daddy. Someday, you’ll marry the person you love, and I can’t wait to dance at your wedding.”

Then let them go back to playing soccer.

* * * * *

Want more of me? Read my book! Publishers Weekly calls it “uproarious”. The Good Men Project says it’s “hilarious”. Decide who’s right. Buy it here! Or here! Or read more about it here!

5 Myths About Gay Parents I’d Like to Wipe Out Forever

FamilySelfieIf there’s one point I’ve tried to make over and over on this blog, it’s that being a gay dad is awesome. People are almost uniformly nice and welcoming. Our kids feel like rock stars. Life is great.

Every once in a while, though, I hear someone make an offhand remark about LGBTQ parents that makes me cringe. And it’s not always the usual culprits. Sometimes, we’re our own worst enemies, and it’s gay people themselves (usually childless ones) who make unfair generalizations about those of us who do have kids.

So, in honor of Mombian’s 9th annual Blogging for LGBTQ Families Day (you can see my post from last year here), I want to address some sentiments I’ve encountered as a gay dad, from both gay and straight people, which I find incredibly wrong-headed and which I’d like to dispel once and for all.

2014familyday403MYTH #1: Gay parenting is just some hip new trend.

I’ve heard this remark a few times, often from older gay men rolling their eyes in disdain. “Suddenly, everyone’s having kids! It’s like you can’t be seen in Park Slope without one!”

Well, maybe the reason so many gay people are having kids these days isn’t that it’s trendy. It’s that for pretty much the first time ever, we can. As I say in my book, “Mommy Man”, I never thought when I was growing up that I’d be able to have kids at all. So when I realized I could, you’re damn right I made it happen, and clearly, I’m not alone.

It’s only in the last few years that the legal, social, biological and financial barriers keeping LGBTQ people from having kids have begun to come down. At the same time, the legalization of same-sex marriage has made more LGBTQ people comfortable with the thought of having families, because we know our kids will be protected and our families will be recognized for what they are.

So sure, Park Slope might be crawling with gaybies, but if you’re thinking this will blow over and all the gay parents are someday going to trade their kids in for pet rocks or whatever the next hot fad is, you’re missing the point.

MYTH #2: There’s something weird about the way gay people have kids.

As someone whose kids were born through surrogacy, I’m especially used to hearing this misconception, because in vitro fertilization and surrogacy are things many people still don’t quite understand. You’re free to make your own choices as to how you want to have kids, of course, but as for what went into making my kids, all you really need to know is that the #1 ingredient was love.

My husband and I conceived with the help of his sister, who generously donated her eggs for us. It seems like every time I say this, somebody brings up the issue of incest. Weren’t we worried that mixing genetic material from a brother and sister would create some kind of demonic freakbaby?

Well, yes we were worried about that, which is why WE NEVER EVEN CONSIDERED IT. It seems so obvious to me, but I’m starting to wonder whether I should change the title of my book to “We Used My Sperm” just to make sure there’s no confusion on anyone’s part.

What’s really startling about this, though, is that anyone believes for even a moment that we would’ve broken the ultimate genetic taboo just to have kids. As if, because we didn’t do things the “traditional way”, all sense of propriety and safety went out the window.

Sure, LGBTQ people have kids through a variety of methods, but when you break them down, they’re all pretty much the same. Egg, sperm, uterus. It’s just a matter of who those parts belong to that varies. When we have kids, there are no guarantees, and there’s often heartbreak. But nature is pretty consistent and the goal is always the same, that one day a kid will go home with a parent or two who loves them.

Does Prada make one of these?

Does Prada make one of these?

MYTH #3: Gay parents treat children as accessories.

I would never believe anyone thought this if I hadn’t heard actual people say it. But I have. There are people who think gays only want kids because they make good “accessories”.

I don’t know what gay parents these people know, but the ones I’ve encountered are every bit as loving, nurturing and dedicated as any other parents. They have to be, or they never would’ve become parents in the first place.

Having a family when you’re LGBTQ is hard. No matter what path you choose – adoption, surrogacy, fostering — it takes an enormous amount of time, expense and every ounce of emotion you have to get to the point where there’s a child in your care. I can’t imagine anyone actually becoming a gay parent if they’re not in it for the right reasons.

The suggestion that this “accessory” mentality exists comes directly from a stereotype – a viciously homophobic one at that – of gay men as shallow and selfish. What’s more offensive than to suggest that LGBTQ people would consider a human child to be on par with a Gucci handbag? (And by the way, next to the cost of parenthood, those handbags are a steal.)

If all you want is an accessory, you’re better off choosing one that won’t throw up on you or scream-sing “Let It Go” at your feet every time you pick up the goddamn phone for five freaking seconds.

As a gay dad, the only accessory I actually have is called a Diaper Dude, and I don’t wear it over my shoulder everywhere I go because I’m expecting to be hounded by paparazzi outside of Gymboree. I carry it because it contains spare underpants in case my kids shit themselves when we’re away from home.

Glamorous, right?

MYTH #4: Surrogacy is inherently narcissistic.

A lot of people look down on the notion of surrogacy as a needlessly complicated and expensive way to have kids, when there are so many kids out there who need good homes. The implication was that people only choose surrogacy because they want to look into their kid’s eyes and see themselves reflected back.

Well, let me make one thing very clear: as a parent, I spend a lot less time gazing lovingly into my children’s eyes than staring disgustedly at their poopy buttholes. And trust me, when I’m wiping up their feces, I’m not looking for any resemblance.

Yes, for my husband and me, having kids who share some of our genes is nice. We get to play that, “Which one of you do they look like?” game, and there’s nothing wrong with wanting that connection with a child. But outside of that comes the other 99.999% of parenting, which is the same no matter where your kids came from.

Genetics isn’t the only reason to choose surrogacy. I’ve written a post on 6 of the others, but the main one is that legally, no path to parenthood gives gay people nearly as many rights as surrogacy does. Adoptions fall through, and foster kids get taken away, but my kids belonged to my husband and me from the moment of conception. They were ours if something tragic happened or if they ended up with special needs or funny-looking noses. We took the same chances every parent does, and ultimately, they resemble themselves a lot more than they do either of us.

As for all those needy kids, it may sound harsh, but not everyone is equipped to take in a special needs kid or to deal with the legal and emotional complications of fostering. Nobody tells straight people that they shouldn’t be having kids of their own, so it’s best not to judge how people had their family. “Your family is beautiful” is a compliment that works for any family, so go with that instead.

MYTH #5: Children of gay parents are forced into an unfair legal limbo.

Let me be very clear: I would never have had children with a surrogate if I thought my legal rights would be in question. Yet the myth still exists that surrogates can for custody if they feel like it. I even encountered this mistaken belief in my radio interview last week.

It’s not true.

California, where my kids were born, is one of the most progressive states in recognizing gay parental rights. Both my partner and I are listed as parents on their birth certificates, and as I said, we had full legal rights to them from the moment of conception. California recognized the legality of our surrogacy contract, and we had no fears that the surrogate would ever be granted any parenting rights. Had that been a legitimate concern, we would never have taken the risk.

Admittedly, this is one myth I can’t wholly dismiss. Gay parents are all over the country, but statutes concerning surrogacy, adoption and foster parenting vary from state to state. As a result, some gay parents are left to take some uncomfortable chances in having children. In some places, same-sex couples are prohibited from adopting altogether, and in others, gay parents have to endure protracted and expensive second parent adoptions, even when they’re legally married.

If that upsets you, don’t hold it against gay parents, who don’t deserve to be discriminated against just because they happen to live in, say, North Carolina.  Just realize that the government is behind the times and needs to catch up to the realities of our modern family era.

I just wish I were more optimistic that those changes were coming, when some gay people themselves still hold some very backward ideas about gay parents.

* * * * *

Want to learn more about the realities of gay parents – and specifically, of my family? Then read my book, “Mommy Man: How I Went From Mild-Mannered Geek to Gay Superdad,” which is now available wherever you like to buy books, and which Publisher’s Weekly calls “Uproarious.”

Not convinced? Head over to Amazon or GoodReads to read the reviews, and download the sample chapter to check it out.

* * * * *

If you want to read one really awesome review of “Mommy Man”, check out this one written by Mombian (a/k/a Dana Rudolph) herself.

FairyGodmother2-good

Just a Couple of Gay Dads at Disney World

snowwhite2Last week, I did something I never thought I’d do. I went to Disney World as a dad.

The last time I’d been there, I was pretty much still a kid myself — 20 years old and just coming to terms with being gay. Everywhere I looked in Orlando, I saw dads. They were buckling their kids into the Dumbo ride and hoisting them onto their shoulders to watch the Main Street Electrical Parade. They all had big smiles on their faces, and they all had wives.

With that visit, Disney World became Exhibit A of what I was sacrificing by coming out of the closet.

Or so I thought.

I’ve written a whole book about how I got from that point to fatherhood, and I’m happy to say that twenty years in the future, life looks a lot better than I ever expected it would. As soon as Drew and I felt the kids were old enough to appreciate a Disney vacation, we booked our trip.

I had just a tinge of nerves as the four of us headed for the airport. We’re never more visible as a family than when we travel. Nothing says “We file taxes jointly” as clearly as sharing a Lion King suite in a Disney hotel. And I doubt any place in America draws such a cross-section of Americans as Orlando. I was sure we’d bump into some people who wouldn’t find our family… let’s say, family-friendly.

We’d barely stepped through the front door of our hotel when an eager employee — er, I mean cast member — strolled up to us and asked if we needed to check in.

“Well, I was told I’d get a text when our room was ready, and it hasn’t come yet,” I told him.

“Hmmm, let me see,” he said. He took down my name and disappeared behind the check-in desk.

A minute later, he was back. “You haven’t been assigned a room yet, but I’m going to talk to my manager and get that taken care of right away! Just sit tight!”

We watched him approach his manager, and Drew whispered to me. “I think we’re getting the family treatment, if you know what I mean.”

Of course I knew what he meant. The cast member who was helping us was gay (“family”) himself, so he was being extra nice to us. Moments later, we were upstairs in a fantastic room on the top floor.

Though I’d planned all our meal reservations months in advance (which you have to do if you want to eat at the good spots), I needed to make a change to one. I was not optimistic I’d be able to get what I wanted, but I picked up our hotel phone and dialed the reservation line.

“So this is for you and… Andrew?” the man on the other end asked, reading my information off his computer.

“Yes.”

“And are you celebrating anything today?”

“Well, it’s our anniversary, actually.” (We hadn’t specifically planned to be at Disney World for the occasion, but a lot of big life events seem to end up happening on the same day Drew and I met 11 years ago.)

“Aw!” he said. I realized that once again, we were getting the family treatment. He fixed my reservation and waived the change fee.

It’s then that I realized something that would become even clearer to me throughout our vacation: a LOT of gay people work at Disney World. And as I’ve already learned, gay people love to see gay parents. Thanks to them and all the other wonderful people who work at the Magic Kingdom, I felt completely safe at Disney and never had any second thoughts about whether my family belonged there.

mulansuccessWe spent our vacation like pretty much everyone else. We dined with everyone from Donald Duck to Tigger to Stitch to Sleeping Beauty. We stalked Mulan through Epcot’s China pavilion so the kids could get her autograph, camping out on a tip that she was going to make a surprise appearance. (Success!) We spent roughly half our kids’ college funds on Disney merchandise.

It was awesome.

Instead of feeling self-conscious about our family, we felt… well, special.

As we stood on Main Street waiting for a lunch reservation one day, a cast member approached us in character and said, “You have a beautiful family! The four of you, I love this.” She pointed at each of us, just so we knew for sure that she understood exactly what kind of family we had.

fairygodmotherOur kids felt like celebrities, because everyone from the White Rabbit to Princess Tiana treated them rock stars. They got picked to take part in shows, Mike Wazowski read Bennett’s joke during the Monsters, Inc. show, and the characters at Disney restaurants didn’t want to leave our table. No one was more awesome than Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother. We stood in line one day to get her autograph, and the next day, she spotted us during the park’s opening ceremony. “I remember you guys!” she called out to us. “Come see me later!”

Of course, we did, and she greeted us like old friends. This was a woman who probably spoke to hundreds of families a day, but precisely because we were a little bit different, she remembered us. It made me realize once again that it’s better to stand out than to blend in.

Any fears I had about people reacting negatively to our family were unfounded. As I’ve noted in other posts, the nice people we come into contact with tend to be extra-nice to us, and the homophobes are at least polite enough to stay out of our way.

There’s no way to say this without sounding cheesy or like some Disney shill (which I’m not — no one has paid me for this post!), but the best word I can think of to describe our trip was “magical.”

Becoming a dad was a major life victory for me, but it was hardly the last one. It’s been followed by innumerable others, the most recent of which came last week, when I took my family to Disney World, just like anyone else.

And it was even better than I’d imagined.

* * * * *

If you’re a regular reader, you may already know to skip the part after the asterisks, because you’ve probably already subscribed to my blog and followed me everywhere else, too — and geez, when’s he going to stop asking? Those of you who are still reading — what are you waiting for? Subscribe, like me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter — and hey, as long as I’m shamelessly groveling, why not mark my book as “to read” on GoodReads? That’d be swell.